Do your homework before signing the contract
1. How much is rent?
It sounds obvious, but work out exactly how much rent you’ll be paying before you sign anything. When translating the weekly rental price into monthly costs, remind yourself that four weeks do not a calendar month make!
And make sure you know exactly how much rent is being demanded up front. Some landlords ask for three months’ worth so always double check.
2. How much is the deposit?
A deposit equivalent to more than two months’ rent should set alarm bells ringing.
This aspect of renting has become less problematic, because the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (introduced in October 2007) now helps safeguard tenants’ rights as it makes it much harder for landlords to unfairly hold on to your deposit at the end of the tenancy.
3. Are there administration fees?
If an estate agent is involved, find out exactly how much you’ll be charged in ‘administration’ fees if you do decide to rent the property. Expect to pay around £100 per person. If the fee is much higher than this – or if the service you’ve received has been poor – it’s definitely worth haggling.
4. Are there management fees?
Cheek to see if any management fees will apply during your time as a tenant. This is particularly likely if you’re renting a flat in a large block.
These fees are generally meant to cover the upkeep of a building’s communal areas (hallways, communal gardens etc) but they vary widely. Get written specifics from the managing agent before you sign anything, so you know exactly where your money is meant to be going.
5. Are there holding fees?
Find out how much you’ll be expected to pay as a holding fee, to be kept by the landlord/managing agent while they check your references.
Once you’ve signed the contract, this money should be returned to you – or your other payments should be reduced accordingly. If you do change your mind afterwards, you won’t get a refund.
And make sure your references are accurate and complete. If you’re rejected for the property on the grounds of inadequate references, you probably won’t get the holding fee back.
6. How much is the council Tax?
You should work out exactly how much Council Tax you’ll be paying each year – it could even affect your choice of location. It’s also worth finding out what Council Tax band your potential property falls into. Generally speaking, the higher the value of the property, the higher the band, and the more you’ll have to pay.
7. How much utility costs?
When looking around, think utility costs. That period conversion may be the stuff of dreams, with its polished oak floorboards and original sash windows – but it will also be a bugger to heat.
Clarify what – if any – utilities are included in the rental price. Flats in big blocks, for example, sometimes come with water and even heating costs thrown in.
And to find out just how much energy you’re likely to use, make sure your potential landlord shows you an Energy Performance Certificate.
This will give details of the property’s energy efficiency and environmental impact. Any landlord marketing a self-contained property to new tenants has to provide one.